Alex Cox’s Walker (1987): Criterion Blu-ray review

William Walker (Ed Harris) sees American expansionism as a mission from God in Alex Cox's Walker (1987)

Criterion’s Blu-ray release of Alex Cox’s masterpiece Walker (1987) revives this deconstruction of America’s self-mythologizing at a time when its themes are more pertinent than ever; imperial attacks on domestic and foreign societies driven by a toxic mixture of religious self-righteousness and unfettered capitalist greed have been on the rise for decades and Walker traces the roots back to the mid-19th Century doctrine of Manifest Destiny.

Life and Death in the films of George A. Romero

Peter (Ken Foree) has no patience for stupidity in George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978)

With the release of Second Sight’s massive edition of George A. Romero’s genre-defining Dawn of the Dead – all three cuts restored in 4K, plus commentaries and a supplementary disk with almost seven hours of new and archival documentaries and featurettes, and no less than three CDs of music including the complete Goblin soundtrack and hours of library tracks – the late, great director is given his due. Arrow’s 2017 three-disk set of early features, Between Night and Dawn, illuminates how he got there.

Cannibal feast

The Woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) offers Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers)' daughters an unexpected form of liberation in Lucky McKee's The Woman (2011)

In popular culture, and exploitation movies, cannibals are the disreputable cousins of the zombie; they have the embarrassing habit of eating unsuspecting people without any supernatural justification. There’s a distinct difference, though, between American and Italian cannibal movies – the former adhering to tropes related to serial killer stories, while the latter draw on anthropological ideas to provide a gloss of realism to graphic exploitation imagery. The contrast can be seen clearly between Andrew van den Houten’s Offspring (2009), Lucky McKee’s The Woman (2011) and Pollyanna McIntosh’s Darlin’ (2019) and Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox (1981).

Pandemic viewing, Part One

Brigitte Lahaie serves the bloodsucking Count in Jean Rollin's La fiancee de Dracula (2002)

Social isolation and “working from home” mean a lot of time for movie-watching … and the volume far outstrips my ability to say anything substantive about many of the films I do watch: so here I mostly just acknowledge what I’ve been viewing in the past 4-6 weeks. Part one of four.

Asia extreme

Boxer Leo (Masataka Kubota) and prostitute Monica (Sakurako Konishi) face off against yakuza gangs in Takashi Miike's First Love (2019)

Although there are obviously differences from culture to culture, many Asian movies share a tendency to to ignore the kind of “realism” Western, and particularly American, movies so often feel is necessary – which is one reason so many U.S. remakes of Asian genre movies take on a pedestrian quality nowhere evident in the originals. Three recent Asian movies – from Korea, Japan and China – use different approaches to explore societies in which economic and social inequality engender violence and to some degree madness. One uses blackly comic satire, one pushes genre tropes to absurd extremes, and one pushes neorealism into the realm of nightmare.

More late winter viewing, part two

An experimental serum revives and mutates dead soldiers in Julius Avery's Overlord (2018)

Style trumps substance in several recently viewed movies: from Stefano Sollima’s troubling depiction of mythic threats on the U.S. southern border in Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018) to Julius Avery’s disappointing exploitation of World War Two horrors for cheap thrills in Overlord (2018), from Drew Goddard’s ersatz Tarantino-like narrative play in Bad Times at the El Royale (2018) to Kenneth Branagh’s glossy rehash of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (2017).

Indicator Blu-rays, part two: America in the 1970s

Patsy's father (Vincent Gardenia) is suspicious of her new boyfriend in Jules Feiffer & Alan Arkin's Little Murders (1971)

Two Blu-ray releases from Indicator represent shifts occurring in American filmmaking at the end of the ’60s, with Don Siegel’s near-perfect heist movie Charley Varrick (1973) quietly trashing all the rules once imposed by the Production Code and Alan Arkin’s directorial debut with Jules Feiffer’s Little Murders (1971) offering an unsettling, blackly comic dissection of the violence at the heart of American society.

Blasts from the past

Mario Bava and Italian genre film: Gialli and Thrillers

John Ford at Columbia 1935-1958: Indicator Blu-ray

Tired ageing badmen: Criterion Blu-ray review

September Arrow releases

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